Threaded Discussions and Case Studies

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to look inside a few course shells and see some very inventive ways that our professors are using the the LearningStudio threaded discussion tool. Threaded discussions are great for online courses, as this is a way that students can interact with each other and engage with the material. Threaded discussions can also be used in face-to-face classes to continue or to prepare for an in class discussion; to support the evaluation of sources, theories, or methodologies; or for other course-specific goals.

I’ve noticed that quite a few faculty members are framing threaded discussion questions around case studies. What a wonderful way to allow students to apply course concepts, to place all students into the role of both teacher (as they share their approach to the situation) and learner (as they read and engage with the responses of classmates), and to provide students with opportunities to work beyond the stated objectives (for example, researching the pros and cons of a suggested course of action) or to improve their performance (by breaking their response into more manageable pieces/posts and seeing the work of successful students).

A well-written case study is an act of digital story-telling, drawing the students in and getting them invested in using their new-found knowledge to asses a given situation. Here are some other attributes of successful case study scenarios. In particular, I think it would be helpful to look at this list as one formulated a case study discussion question and then again as one moderated or monitored the discussion later.

Good discussion questions tend to beget good discussions. Nothing invites a quick skim of discussion board responses like asking your students what they found interesting / surprising / new in a given set of readings. As the instructor, you may gain some useful insights from this, but your students likely aren’t applying any skills, nor are they really getting to know one another or thinking deeply about the content. Questions about the application of new material, how course knowledge will change a student’s thinking / approach to a problem, hypotheticals and counter-factuals, practice taking the perspective of an “other”, and requirements that students acknowledge and then balance competing priorities – all these can be embedded in a case study. Best, case study prompts built around the above approaches offer the opportunity to put course concepts in context and for students to meaningfully engage with one another in discussion post after discussion post.

Note that the Koehler Center workshop schedule will include training on the LearningStudio threaded discussion tool; Spring 2013 dates will be posted soon.

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